Speed Dating

After 17 years of marriage, it has come to this – I just spent two full days in Vancouver speed dating. Before the rumour mill takes over, I was at an ICEF fair, “dating” agents from all over the world. Our date focused on Canada as the preferred study destination.

World wide, Canada is perceived to be the fourth choice destination for education after Britain, the USA and Australia. So someone really needs to step up and make a strong first impression on the date. And our CAIS Boarding schools have grabbed a dance card.

Sarah Milligan, Director of Outreach for the Collaborative Boarding Project, and I had appointments from 9:00am – 6:00pm. The date works like this – at the ICEF fair, 800 people move tables every 25 minutes. Man from [name your country] sits down and tells us about his agency. Our first question is usually something polite: “Tell us more about your organization.”

On every date, we pull out our brochure listing the 28 Boarding Schools and give our elevator speech.

If he shows any knowledge of our schools, we might lean in. If he has sent students to any of our schools, we lean in AND make some serious eye contact. This is a potential long-term relationship so all guns are firing:

“You probably know that Canada is a very safe country.” This, we know, is the number one reason people choose Canada. When he sees that we nailed that easy target, we take it up a notch:

“You know, our education system scores incredibly high on the PISA tests.”

By this point, he is ours, so we might lower our voices:

“You should take the time to get to know our boarding schools. They provide so much more in terms of safety, high standards, and a well-rounded education in a caring environment.”

Then we seal the deal. Big time flirting now:

“You know, CAIS schools are accredited to meet high international standards. We collect data on university acceptance rates, and our students consistently get in to the university of their choice all over North America. You should look to CAIS for the very best in Canadian education.”

To finish off the date, we ask every question we can about how to work together. Can you help us to connect with families who might be interested in boarding? When we visit your country, can we arrange to meet with you? Can we partner with the local embassy and hold an event for Canadian boarding schools?

The bell rings. You exchange business cards, smile, stand, shake hands and start all over again.

Working with agents is all about relationships and this first impression counts. We want them to return home and have Canada on their minds when clients come to them.

This process may seem insincere and manipulative. But here’s the thing – you have to do a little sashay to get to know each other. And here’s the real thing – although you are seated in a loud room that lacks fresh air and all you want to do is explore Stanley Park on a bicycle built for two, you are selling Canada and CAIS and boarding.

Who wouldn’t want to go on a blind date?

By the numbers:


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote the United States as a study destination.


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote Australia as a study destination.


Percentage of homestay students who come to Canada through agents.


Number of international students studying in Canada in 2010.


Number of international students studying in CAIS Boarding schools in 2010.


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote Canada as a study destination.


Number of dollars spent by CAIS Collaborative Boarding Project starting in July, a large part will promote Canada as a study of destination.

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